Highlighting 3 athletic volunteering opportunities for DC’s: The Olympics, baseball, football
The truth about chiropractors in pro sports
By Anthony Lombardi
A sizable part of my clinical practice is seeing amateur and some professional athletes who pay out of pocket for my services. The irony is that chiropractors who work for professional sports teams often work pro-bono. My research verified that while many non-health-care professionals who work with pro teams get paid – chiropractors for the most part are volunteering their time. I interviewed chiropractors at the Olympic, Major League Baseball, Canadian Football League, and National Football League level. This is what they had to say about the business side of working with professional sports teams. There is a misconception that chiropractors are well compensated for their time. That is simply not true – however, using the affiliation to benefit their private practice can be fruitful.
Olympics: Working overtime
It was explained to me that in the U.S., they have three Olympic Training Centers. There is a full-time DC at each location and these are paid positions. The training centres also have volunteer programs where DCs rotate through in two-week cycles. Some chiropractors travel with different national teams. These DCs are generally chosen by that sport’s national governing body and these are also volunteer positions. Most of the time, the NGB will pay for the chiropractors’ travel/airfare and hotel.
I spoke with Dr. Sherri LaShomb, a chiropractor with the Taekwondo U.S. Olympic Team. She said that although it sounds crazy, her time is volunteered. When she is out of her office, she pays another DC to cover for her. “It is definitely a labour of love,” LaShomb said. LaShomb also pointed out it is important to note that this situation is not unique to chiropractors. Other health-care providers, like MDs, RMTs and athletic therapists, volunteer their time with the Olympic teams, too.
LaShomb feels it is difficult to gauge whether her sports affiliation is a benefit to her practice. “I’m not sure if my position helps or hurts my practice,” LaShomb commented. I’m sure it’s not a great business advantage to be gone as often as I have been, but I love it and I try my best to accommodate my patients before and after I travel. I had a long-time patient tell me he was leaving my care because I was gone too long for the Olympics. Although he was the first patient to ever tell me, I would guess there have been others that have gone elsewhere for care while I’ve been away and not returned. I’m sure it’s not a great business advantage to be gone as often as I have been, but I love it and I try my best to accommodate my patients before and after I travel. I’ve come in early, stayed late, treated patients during my lunchtime and on days off to do the best I can to accommodate them.”
Baseball: Full count
I interviewed Baltimore Orioles team chiropractor Dr. Ken Kaufman; Dr. Rick Bishop, DC of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and three other Major League Baseball DCs who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity.
The DC position with an MLB team ranges across the board. Some doctors provide care voluntarily with some perks, such as game tickets and clothing. While other chiropractors are paid as independent contractors for as much as $100 US per hour during spring training.
Most MLB DCs feel their affiliation with the team allows them to stand out among their colleagues. When patients refer their friends and family to these doctors, they often proudly report that Dr. XY is the team chiropractor of Team A in the MLB. In addition, the prospective patients also feel that since a major sports team trusts the chiropractor, they can, too.
The consensus among MLB DCs is that being a team chiropractor in the MLB is not a big moneymaker. However, Kaufman pointed out it can be a part of an overall branding strategy for your private practice. “Since becoming the team chiropractor, my practice has evolved into 95 per cent sports injury treatment and rehabilitation,” Kaufman asserted.
“Most chiropractors that work for pro teams go to the facility to treat the players. In my experience, I built the sports portion of my practice by having the players come to me.” Kaufman urges that this can be achieved by “retraining” the pros to come to your office during their off-season. Alternatively, you can make players aware of the other services you offer at your office and explain why you are not able to provide these services at the ballpark.
Kaufman went on to explain: “For instance, the time the sports DC can spend with each player at the ballpark is limited – as are the modalities they can offer. Players who value what you do will put a priority on their performance care. These athletes will make the trip to your office and pay out-of-pocket.”
Football: 3rd and goal
Thankfully, one NFL chiropractor came forward and agreed to be interviewed anonymously. The chiropractor explained that since the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) does not require a team to have a chiropractor on staff, the only way a DC works for a pro team is by being an independent contractor. A pro team can call you their team chiropractor but it is up to you to negotiate a fee for your service. The DC said that in the past they were compensated with team season tickets, Super Bowl tickets, and team performance bonuses.
The same is true north of the 49th parallel. I was able to interview Toronto Argos DC, Dr. Dwight Chapin. He said: “I would agree with you that the expectations of young chiropractors and/or students regarding compensation when working with athletes are unrealistic. I do not do it for the money. The compensation is minimal.”
I contacted the Professional Football Chiropractic Society (PFCS), which is an association of NFL chiropractors. At first they agreed to entertain my query. However, once I started asking questions about money, their volunteer work, and the misinformation surrounding working in pro sports, they did not return repeated emails
Sporting a specialty?
The question asked by many chiropractors interested in treating pro athletes is: Do I need my sports specialty to treat pro athletes?
All of the pro sports DCs I interviewed said that certification and fellowship programs like the CCSP and the FRCCSS are not a requirement to work for professional athletes or pro sports teams. In fact, the majority of sports DCs I interviewed did not have them. In my nearly 20 years of practice, I have treated and continue to see players from the Olympics, NLL, ECHL, NHL, NFL, and CFL. In that time, never has a player (professional or amateur) asked me if I have my sports specialty – they were simply interested in the ways my assessments/treatments could benefit their performance.
Anthony LOMBARDI, DC, is a private consultant to athletes in the NFL, CFL and NHL, and founder of the Hamilton Back Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic. He teaches his fundamental EXSTORE Assessment System and practice building workshops to various health professionals. For more information, visit www.exstore.ca.